The parents of Dustin Inman, the Cherokee County teenager killed in a car accident caused by an illegal immigrant, conducted a candlelight vigil Wednesday night to commemorate the 10th anniversary of their son's death.
Roughly 35 people gathered around Dustin's grave at Rolling Hills Memory Gardens Cemetery in Acworth.
On June 16, 2000, Father's Day weekend, Billy, Kathy and Dustin Inman were driving up to Hiawassee in the north Georgia mountains from their home in Cherokee County to spend the weekend with family. At around 9 p.m., their car was slammed into from behind while they were stopped at a red light in Ellijay. Dustin, who was 16, and the family dog died at the scene. Kathy and Billy were knocked unconscious and flown to a nearby hospital.
The driver of the other car, Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzalez, told translators he fell asleep at the wheel. It was later found that Harrell-Gonzalez was in the U.S. illegally and able to obtain a valid North Carolina driver's license using his Mexican birth certificate and Mexican ID card.
Harrell-Gonzalez was charged with vehicular homicide and reckless driving, but fled from police when taken to Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton. With whereabouts unknown, he has never been brought to justice.
Since the accident, Billy and Kathy have been vocal in the fight to stop illegal immigration. At a rally in Doraville in 2004, the couple met Marietta activist D.A. King, who changed the name of his anti-illegal immigration activism group to the Dustin Inman Society to keep Dustin's memory alive.
Billy said he thanks King for naming the organization after his son, and that Dustin would be proud to know his name now stands for such an important cause.
"I'm just proud to be his daddy," Billy said of his son. "I miss him so much. There's nothing I can do to bring him back, but I don't want you or someone else to go through what we've been through, because it's just not right."
Following the crash, Kathy Inman, who suffered severe spinal injuries, spent five weeks in a coma. She and her husband were unable to attend Dustin's funeral because of their injuries. Kathy has had countless surgeries over the past 10 years, and will spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
Mary Kirkendoll, a friend of the Inmans and an anti-illegal immigration activist, set up a fund recently for the Inmans at Regions Bank to help them pay for Kathy's medical bills. She is recovering from her latest surgery, which occurred last week.
"I'm thankful for it, but I kind of feel funny," Billy said of the fund. "I'm still holding my head up, but the way times are now, everybody's struggling. And there's so many people losing their jobs and their houses. It's appreciated and it does help."
Billy, 46, who works as a truck driver, said he took 56 days off work last year alone to take his wife to the hospital. While he said he tries to take care of her as much as he can himself, he said he often needs someone to help him, since Kathy needs care 24 hours a day.
As the Inmans continue to remember their son, Billy says he wants people to realize that accidents like the one that tore his family apart can happen to anyone, and that the government needs to do more to secure the country's borders.
"It just breaks my heart that we have to pay for these illegals. We can do that for their family, but they can do this to my family. It's just not right," he said.
King said he hears stories like Dustin's on a weekly basis. At one point, King's organization tried to track all of the deadly accidents and crimes committed by illegal immigrants through newspaper stories, but couldn't keep track of them all.
"This is in memory of a young man who is forever 16 because our government refuses to secure our borders," King said.
King and the Dustin Inman Society have been at the forefront of the illegal immigration debate in Cobb County, particularly in the wake of the recent arrest of illegal immigrant and Kennesaw State University student Jessica Colotl. Colotl made headlines and has received aid and support from immigrant rights groups after being arrested for driving without a license and then detained by immigration officials.
Billy Inman said no one stepped up to help his family when the accident happened.
"I'm sorry for that Jessica Colotl girl, but she's studying law - she knows the law," Billy said. "When this happened to me, I didn't have a soul that jumped up to help me. And this is more of a tragedy than that."
Although King's organization has been criticized for being a hate group, Inman says that's just not true.
"We're not racist. There's good and bad in everybody, but the bottom line is you're either legal or illegal."
Donations for the Inman Family can be made through the Inman Family Fund at any Regions Bank branch in Georgia.
Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Remembering Dustin